Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Ingmar Bergman writer

Ingmar Bergman is dead. I remember the first Bergman film I saw "Wild Strawberries' when I was about 18. I was a country boy who grew up on Tarzan 'King of the Apes' and Disneyland and had just moved to the big city and Wild Strawberries grabbed me although I really didn't know what to make of it. I think I somehow knew it was arty and I was trying to be arty. But Bergman was also a great writer. Icame across this post in a blog on writing that I read regularly Poynter Online by Roy Peter Clark. This is great to read as you can visualise the scene so well.

It's the opening to "The Seventh Seal," a story about a medieval knight in the days of the Black Plague:

The night had brought little relief from the heat, and at dawn a hot gust of wind blows across the colorless sea.

The knight, Antonius Block, lies prostrate on some spruce branches spread over the fine sand. His eyes are wide-open and bloodshot from lack of sleep. Nearby his squire Jons is snoring loudly. He has fallen asleep where he collapsed, at the edge of the forest among the wind-gnarled fir trees. His open mouth gapes toward the dawn, and unearthly sounds come from his throat.

At the sudden gust of wind the horses stir, stretching their parched muzzles toward the sea. They are thin and worn as their masters.

The knight has risen and waded into the shallow water, where he rinses his sunburned face and blistered lips.

Jons rolls over to face the forest and the darkness. He moans in his sleep and vigorously scratches the stubbled hair on his head. A scar stretches diagonally across his scalp, as white as lightning against the grime.

The knight returns to the beach and falls on his knees. With his eyes closed and brow furrowed, he says his morning prayers. His hands are clenched together and his lips form the words silently. His face is sad and bitter. He opens his eyes and stares directly into the morning sun which wallows up from the misty sea like some bloated, dying fish. The sky is gray and immobile, a dome of lead. A cloud hangs mute and dark over the western horizon. High up, barely visible, a sea gull floats on motionless
wings. Its cry is weird and restless.

The knight's large gray horse lifts its head and whinnies. Antonius Block turns around. Behind him stands a man in black. His face is very pale and he keeps his hands hidden in the wide folds of his cloak.

The man, of course, is Death, but we'll meet him in a minute. Notice how, through his words, Bergman offers us a wide shot, where we can see sky, the gulls, and the horizon; and the close-up, where we can see the parched lips of the knight and the scar on the squire's forehead.Because there will be sound in the movie, Bergman writes with sound: the snores of the squire, the whinny of the horses, the cry of the seabirds. And, of course, we overhear the dialogue:

Knight: Who are you?

Death: I am Death.

Knight: Have you come for me?

Death: I have been walking by your side for a long time.

Knight: That I know.Death: Are you prepared?

Knight: My body is frightened, but I am not.

Death: Well, there is no shame in that.

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